Community to take over town hall

Fiona Evans

A YORKSHIRE town is to become one of the first communities in the country to take direct responsibility for running its own town hall building.

The future of the Hebden Bridge Town Hall is secure after Calderdale Council’s Cabinet agreed to transfer the historic building to a community-run charitable trust.

The transfer will be made to Hebden Bridge Community Association, a registered charity specially established for the purpose.

Community association trustee Andrew Bibby said: “This is an historic decision, which will ensure that one of the finest buildings in our town continues to be a focal point in community life for many years to come. This is the culmination of more than two years detailed discussions with Calderdale Council, and of plenty of hard work by many in our community, all unpaid.

“We have undertaken a detailed business planning process to demonstrate that the town hall will be sustainable financially in the long-term under community control.”

The association is member-controlled and has the support of more than 450 local people who have signed up as members and friends of the town hall.

The local town and parish councils and many community organisations are also giving their support.

In the short term, the association is planning to bring a current empty hall back into use and to renovate existing poorly-used meeting space. This will see the building offering a range of community services as well as providing meeting and function space for local people

At the same time an ambitious 4m project is under way which would see a set of new buildings constructed on currently vacant land next to the town hall, to provide both a small enterprise centre and new community facilities.

Under the terms agreed, Hebden Bridge Community Association will acquire a 40-year leasehold of the town hall building.

Calderdale Council will remain as one of the building’s users and will become a tenant of the association.

The town hall, originally owned by the former urban district council, passed into Calderdale’s Council’s control following 1974 local government reorganisation.

As with civic buildings in other similar sized towns, its long-term function has been unclear.

Asset transfer to community ownership enables direct community engagement in a key local building, says Hebden Bridge Community Association.

It also gives access to capital funding not available to local authorities.

Calderdale Council’s portfolio holder for safer and stronger communities, Ian Cooper said: “This is a great project and I am happy that we have had the chance to be involved in a scheme which will give local people more influence and a greater sense of identity.

“Once up and running, the hub will help to strengthen community cohesion and develop business opportunities. As a council we want to preserve the borough’s heritage and develop local business and talent. This scheme will help us to do just that.”

Liberal Democrat councillor Janet Battye has been actively involved in the scheme and is a trustee of the association.

She said: “This is an enormously exciting development which I believe will secure the future of the town hall for the very long term. What we’re seeing today is the same community pride which was there when the town hall was first put up in 1897.”

The proposals do not affect the town and parish councils that already use the building.